Sunday, February 28, 2016

Good Old Days

The mother of one of my old school friends died a couple of weeks ago. She was 84 and bed-ridden on account of a hip she’d broken last year. Matthew says that was the beginning of the end.
            “The moment she was confined to bed, that was that,” he told us mournfully at the wake.
            Saffy, who has long harboured a lustful crush on Matthew’s absurdly ripped, gym-toned torso and biceps, took the opportunity to reach out and pull him into a crushing embrace against her trembling bosom. “Oh, you poor man,” she crooned. “You must let me know if there’s anything I can do! Anything!”
            Much later, after we’d all finished bowing to the coffin, Amanda hissed at me through the corner of her mouth, “Do you see how shameful she is? If she’s like this now, what’s she going to be like at the actual funeral!”
            Fr0m across the crowded parlour, I spotted my Auntie Sook-Ling waving at me.
            That’s another thing about a funeral. Most people just think of it as a somber, teary affair. Which it is. But it’s also an incredibly social event. People come out of the woodwork. Invariably, I’m surprised to see them because I’d always thought they’d died ages ago.
Friends and relatives, mostly aging, you’ve not seen in years show up in their finest black and pearls and they spend half the time gossiping about the deceased and the other half about who’s getting the jewels.
            Which is why I was so surprised when after I’d settled down next to Auntie Sook-Ling and she’d asked how my mother was, the next thing she said was: “Thank God Ying had money! Imagine if she’d been poor!” 
            I blinked. “You mean she’d have nothing to leave Matthew?”
            Auntie Sook-Ling looked surprised. “No! If she’d been poor, she’d have been dead years ago! During the last year, she had a full time day nurse and a night nurse, you know! I don’t even want to think how much that would have cost! It’s so expensive to get old these days! At least Ying got to die in the comfort of her home.”
            At that moment, Saffy emerged out of the sea of black like an irritated squid. She collapsed into the seat next to me. “I am so hungry! Why don’t they serve food at these things? Oh, hello, Auntie Sook-Ling! I love that diamond brooch!”
            “Hello, Saffy, dear. You look well. How is that boyfriend of yours?”
            “He’s in KL for a meeting.”
            “Any wedding plans?” Auntie Sook-Ling asked solicitously.
            “No. Well, not that I know of,” Saffy said. “He could be planning a secret surprise wedding for me right now, so you never know.”
            “Don’t leave it too long,” Auntie Sook-Ling said, her lovely kohl-lined eyes scanning the crowd, registering the quality of the guests and, by default, the social calibre of Auntie Ying’s funeral. “You must start having children soon. You need someone to look after you in your old age.”
            “Oh, that would be Jason and Amanda,” Saffy told her. “If when I get to your age I’m still single and childless, I'm moving in them. They can look after me!”
            Of course, I couldn’t wait for the excuse to slip away. I mumbled something about having to go to the loo and plunged into the packed crowd to find Amanda. She was in the corner, busily tapping into her Blackberry.
            “You’ll never guess what Saffy’s long term health care plans are,” I announced, and told her.
            Amanda’s eyes widened. “My God, she said that? We already look after her as it is, and she’s such a handful!”
            “Yes, but imagine if you also had to take her to doctor’s appointments and clean her bedpan!” I pointed out.
            The image has haunted us for days. And it’s also forced us to focus on the larger question: who’s going to look after us when we’re old?
            Amanda says it’s such a conundrum. On the one hand, the idea that she’d be forced to live with Saffy and me when she’s 75 fills her with the kind of anguish one normally associates with being told that Hermes has discontinued its Kelly Bag. But then, so does the idea of sitting all alone in an old folks home with complete drooling strangers.
            “Why would they be drooling?” I asked.
            “My granny drooled,” she said. “I was forever dabbing at her mouth.”
            It’s all too depressing to contemplate. It sure doesn't help that I’ve just looked at my bank balance and I realize I’m never going to be able to afford a day and night nurse like Auntie Ying.
            One thing’s for sure though, I’m not moving in with Saffy and Amanda. I’d rather die. Oh, wait…


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